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In the end, the key is to focus on not just providing a roof and a bed to someone in need, but also to providing all of the appropriate supportive services to address the underlying issues – substance addiction, physical or mental abuse, health, education, etc. – that led to the homelessness. Creating partnerships with various service providers can envelope the individual in the necessary blanket of treatments for a more sustainable, long-term solution.
Boyle: At the neighborhood level, you can grow our emotional capacity to deal with the homeless - by acknowledging and learning the names of those who cross our paths we humanize them and that's very meaningful in terms of treating the alienation they feel. This is hard to do because it's uncomfortable and we're all chronically short on time.
In the long term, we have to take care of the economy as a healthy economy pulls more people into productive working situations. We also have to tackle other factors that drive homelessness. It seems we men are at far higher risk of ending up homeless, and so the first rule would be if you're a man, take care of yourself and your relationships and make sure you don't end up homeless. We have to look at our institutions as well. How do we take care of the family unit, no matter how you definite it? Why do we throw so many young men into the prison system? It's so costly and disruptive and fuels the cycle of homelessness. We need to answer fundamental questions, some at the policy level and many at the community level.
Austin: As a city, we will have to identify funding sources at the federal and state level that are available to municipalities for housing assistance and create policy approving the application for and/or acceptance of these funds.
A recommendation that I will put forth is that a city trust fund be created, modeled after the (National Housing Trust Fund created in 2008 at the federal level) this trust fund can be both publicly and privately funded. Housing assistance should be prioritized toward families with children.
The city must also address issues related to substance abuse, mental health and employment in order to combat the factors that lead to higher incidence of homelessness.
Also fair-housing policies will have to be reviewed and strongly addressed to ensure that the city's policies toward mixed income housing development, and rental practices are fair and compassionate.
Councilmembers are policymakers; they're technically not supposed to serve as liaisons between constituents and city departments (for example, failure to pick-up trash or broken traffic lights). Yet they often fall into that role. How would you handle your job once the 311 call center, which is designed to address residents' and businesses' complaints, comes online?
Wan: Indeed, when the current City of Atlanta form of government was created, it was not anticipated that Council members would be as immersed and as responsible for constituent services as we find ourselves today. While my office has always welcomed assisting our constituents who need additional support in working with the city departments, the new 311 call center is expected to help significantly in processing these type requests and creating capacity in our office to focus back onto policy-related matters.
That said, it would be foolish to expect a complete transfer overnight of this activity from our office over to the 311 call center after its launch. Our office stands prepared to continue providing the same level and quality of services to our constituents as long as necessary for 311 users to adapt to the new system.
Further, I eagerly await the data that the 311 call center will be generating. The types of calls, the departments responsible for the service requested, and the number of contacts we receive will be extremely helpful data points to identify problem areas within different departments. I plan to use these metrics to inform my approach to budget deliberations as well as the subsequent policy decisions around how our funds should be deployed.
Boyle: If constituents need help, they need help and that will always be a part of the role. But I suppose any time freed up by the new 311 system should be spent on writing and passing smarter legislation. There is a quite a velocity of ordinances that goes through the system each year, and I don't think it is as vetted as well as it should be.
Austin: Legislation must be passed that ensures accountability in performance of departments. The City must provide (a) prompt and thorough response to - constituent calls; written correspondences; and requests for service, and (b) Professional and courteous treatment of constituents.
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